April 1st 2015 - Tokyo, Japan - Day 228

Big Pete's POV

After our first full day in Japan we all agreed how much we liked the city, the culture and the people.  Tokyo is so different from what I remembered when I lived here almost 20 years ago.  It makes me wonder what the hell was wrong with me back then.  I really had no appreciation of the culture, the people and especially the food.  I hated everything about the city back then and now I love everything about it.  It is almost surreal, but the good news is that apparently I have grown up a little bit and expanded my horizons over the past 20 years :-).

Today started early with a 5:30 AM wake up call and right down to the gym.  I had a conference call at 6:30 and I did not want to hold everyone up by working out after the call.  Once Stacie and I were wrapped up with the workout, conference call and getting ready we headed out to try to find a better breakfast than Starbucks.  Unfortunately the area we are in is not full of breakfast restaurants, so we ended up right back at Starbucks.  By the time we made it back to the room Peter was up and had eaten (apparently at Starbucks - where we missed him) and Lea was still asleep.  She is not feeling well and was really tired out from our big day yesterday.  

We rallied Lea out of bed and got ready to go.  After a quick stop at guess where - Starbucks - we jumped on the train to head to the worlds busiest train station Shinjuku in order to head to the Shinjuku Goyan Gardens to see some blooming cherry trees.  We made it easily to the station and quickly found our way out on to the street.  I dialed up Google Maps and we were on our way.

Wandering down the streets of Tokyo is an adventure in and of itself.  The city is really cool and as Peter mentioned yesterday everyone is very nice and extremely polite.  In fact the process of lining up for anything (like an escalator) is so orderly that we did not even realize we were cutting the line when we first arrived.  We are so used to the herd approach which is so common in Europe that an orderly line is a foreign concept to us.  

Peppered throughout the streets are these little restaurants which seat maybe 10 people at a time.  They are really quaint and all I want to do is go sit in them and eat and have a beer. But it was only 10 so I figured I should wait :-).

We made it to the gardens about 15 minutes later and found a pretty big line.  Yuka (our cooking instructor) told us how much the Japanese like the cherry blossoms and it was apparent when we arrived at the garden.  This is a big deal and the city had turned out to celebrate.  Our timing on the blooms appears to be good as the trees are mostly full and completely open. 

We jumped in line and were to the ticket counter pretty quickly and then into the garden.  There were thousands of people inside just enjoying the blooms.  Most were spread out on blankets under a cherry tree with their family enjoying the day with a picnic.  It was a really nice scene, and because the park is so large, there was plenty of room for everyone.  We wandered around for about an hour and a half before we all agreed it was time to eat.  Our little Starbucks breakfast was not holding up in the face of all this walking.  Here are some pictures of the garden, which do not do the blossoms justice, you really need to see it to believe it - they are beautiful. 

Stacie had done some research on where we could find a good authentic ramen shop and it was only about 15 minutes away, so we headed over to see if we could find it.  By the time we arrived we were all beat and really hungry, however, the line was out the door and again the place sat like 10 people, so we were out of luck.  We wandered back up the street and found another little shop that did not have Ramen, but did have food and seats and that met our requirements.  

The food ended up being great and we were all stuffed by the time we left.  On a side note - the weak Yen has made Tokyo a bargain, our lunch cost about $20 and was huge.  

At this point we were all dragging and ready to head home.  It had started raining as well, so a restful afternoon sounded great.  We worked our way back to the hotel and collapsed into bed for a nap.  I am not sure what it is, but being a tourist in a big city can really drain you.  All of us slept for about an hour and a half before getting up for dinner.  We went out to one of Yuka's suggestion - a Yakatori restaurant.  We really wanted to go to a Yekatori restaurant, so we were excited to have her recommend one to us close by.  Yakatori is basically grilled chicken and vegetables on a skewer, however, the good shops use literally every part of the chicken.  We had all committed to trying new things while in Asia and this seemed like a good place to start.  

Our Yakatori Resturant

We found our spot pretty quickly and when we arrived we were the only people in the restaurant.  It was a really quaint spot (again with about 10 seats).  

The workers inside were very nice, but let us know they did not speak any english - so the adventure in food continued.  They did have an english menu though and that helped a little bit.  We ordered a bunch of things and then sat back and watched our food get prepared right in front of us.  

With each skewer that came out our chef / waiter would tell us what part of the chicken we were eating.  e also had a handy english picture guide to help us understand:

The food was generally delicious - especially the vegetables, and most of the chicken cuts, however, we all agreed we would pass on the kneecaps if we went again (except for Peter, he liked the caps as well).  I was really proud of us for eating everything on our plates and relishing the experience, it was a great night.  The kids finished off the night is some soy ice cream that was wonderful.

Day 2 in Tokyo was fantastic and is making the transition to Asia much easier than any of us expected.